Who is Marie Antoinette?
So for several days now, I’ve been trying to think of the name of that actor—you know, that guy in that show. I’m not going to tell you which show because you’ll know the name immediately, but I can’t think of it, even though I’ve tried my usual technique of going through the alphabet. I’ve tried it at least 10 times now. I’ve remembered Adrian Zmed, Abe Vigoda, and about a hundred others, but I can’t get it. Don’t tell me! I know I could look it up in a second on Google! That would be cheating!
I know who could get it in a fraction of a second—any of the guys competing on “Jeopardy!” this week. It’s the Greatest Of All Time—GOAT–competition between Ken Jennings, James Holzhauer, and Brad Rutter, and it’s pretty exciting for those of us who are unabashedly nerdy. I guess they chose “GOAT” to show they don’t take it too seriously. I wish they had chosen something else and left goats out of it.
“Jeopardy!” is a tradition in my family, more important than any holiday, really. We didn’t all gather around the TV set or anything, but it was just always there, starting from back in the day when Art Fleming was the host. I was never any good at it. If you ask any question about European history, my answer would be, “Who is Marie Antoinette?” But I’m not envious. These guys are so different from me, it’s like watching the Olympics.
Are they KIND?
It takes encyclopedic knowledge to be good at “Jeopardy!”, and I don’t think I’m the only one who has this question, but are they NICE? Are they GOOD people? Have they used their gift to help others? If you’re that smart, for God’s sake, help make the world a better place! I think that’s why the short video during the show that gave us a glimpse into the life of James Holzhauer focused on how much he loved his family. He comes across on TV as kind of cold, and someone must have advised him that his image needed softening. I don’t know what kind of a person he really is, but back when he was winning game after game, before this tournament of champions, I had the sneaking suspicion that when he was very far ahead, when he was wiping out his opponents, he deliberately let them ring in first on the lower-dollar questions, just so they wouldn’t be completely humiliated.
I often listen to interviews of famous musicians or actors, and when I hear that the person to be interviewed is some young, beautiful, blond woman, I usually think, “What can I possibly learn from this person?” but darn it if they don’t also always have something insightful to say. But whenever someone is extremely good at something, what comes to mind for me, mainly, is a paraphrase of Jeremy Bentham, who said about animals, “The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’” My question about people is not, “Are they smart? Are they talented?” but “Are they KIND?” And for me, they’re missing something really important, and they can’t be THAT smart, unless they are kind to ANIMALS as well as people. Even if they have never been exposed to the philosophy of veganism–meaning avoiding harming animals whenever possible and practical—not talking about diets here—I will be disappointed if they are not vegan, because they should have been smart enough to observe that animals were suffering, and kind enough to decide that they should not participate in that.
It requires a different kind of intelligence, in the world today, to understand that animals have emotions and to feel EMPATHY for them, because all around us, people are still trying to deny that fact. I think it’s called emotional intelligence, and anyone can have it in abundance, from an early age. (That’s not the same thing about being able to express emotions. If I can make a sweeping conclusion based mainly on popular works of fiction along with serious nonfiction books like “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” men are generally not so good at expressing emotions, but that’s OK—women find it adorable.)
Among the people I consider to have a high degree of emotional intelligence, along with regular intelligence, is Alex Pacheco, current president of 600 Million Dogs. Pacheco was also the cofounder of PETA, where he served as chairman for 20 years. Though he was born outside Chicago, his family lived in Mexico when he was a child, and there were animals everywhere. In an interview he described how he would go to a market where live iguanas were being sold. The iguanas were hung upside-down, with their limbs tied behind their backs, and they would be thrashing around and squirming, trying to escape. Pacheco thought they looked like old men with hands tied behind their backs, and he thought it was pathetic and he felt very sorry for them.
He also described how there used to be a man who would walk down the street selling parrots, and Pacheco wanted to save a parrot by buying one. The man was about to clip the wings of the parrot so the bird couldn’t fly, and Pacheco had to quickly tell him to stop. Of course most of us know that buying an animal to save her life doesn’t really solve the problem, but when you’re a child, it’s hard to see that big picture, and many adults have trouble with it, too, which is why there are still pet stores selling puppy-mill puppies and getting away with it. People keep trying to “rescue” these puppies by buying them, but that just enables the pet store to fill the cage with another from a puppy mill, where the parent dogs are suffering for life. The pet store owners are laughing all the way to the bank. But I do have some hope that enough people see the big picture that these horrible pet stores will finally die out.
Little Chi Chi
When Alex Pacheco was young, he bought a monkey from a pet store in order to save her life—something he said he would never do today. He named her Chi Chi. From her behavior, he could tell that she had probably been confined to that small cage for her entire life. He gradually was able to let her out of the cage into a larger cage, then into the house, and for a couple of days, instead of running around, she clung to his hair and held on for dear life because she was so terrified to be out of the cage. They became great friends, but Pacheco agrees with many others that having monkeys as pets is a terrible idea, in part because they are very difficult to housetrain.
Chi Chi was a crab-eating macaque. When Pacheco later decided to work undercover at a federally funded animal research facility that he chose because it was near where he lived, he was shocked to find himself looking at one Rhesus monkey and 16 crab-eating macaques, all of whom reminded him of his childhood friend Chi Chi. These monkeys were in very cramped cages and were being subjected to painful experiments. To say that their physical and emotional needs were completely disregarded by the experimenters would be a vast understatement. Whatever type of intelligence these people might have had, they were definitely not kind. Pacheco’s understanding of Chi Chi’s behavior turned out to be very useful in evaluating the terrible condition that these 17 monkeys were in.
But the people abusing these animals hid behind their academic credentials, which are supposed to indicate intelligence of some kind, though obviously not emotional intelligence. I’ve always had a pet peeve that people who get to put “Dr.” in front of their name get way too much automatic respect as compared to other people. To bring this cruelty case to court, experts with advanced degrees were needed to offset the degrees of the experimenters and the NIH. It wasn’t easy to find brave scientists to go against NIH and the experimenters, but Pacheco did find a few to testify on behalf of the Silver Spring Monkeys. A couple of those who helped out were veterinarian Dr. Michael W. Fox and animal behaviorist Geza Teleki. Fortunately these scientists were kind as well as intelligent.
The long fight for the Silver Spring Monkeys
The Silver Spring Monkey case went on for over two decades, and Pacheco fought with everything he had to have these monkeys released to a sanctuary. In the end, several of them were allowed to live out their lives in relative comfort at the San Diego Zoo. Tragically, the federal government and the biomedical industry (I refuse to call them the biomedical “community”—they do not deserve it) would not release the rest. They thought it would look like they were caving in to pressure by animal-rights activists and didn’t want to set that precedent. And of course, the bigger picture is that since then, very few people have been brave enough to do undercover investigations in research labs, animal research goes on largely hidden and unquestioned by the public, and the cruelty continues. Scientists continue to hide behind their veneer of intelligence, claiming the rest of us don’t understand.
But anyone who considers the Silver Spring Monkey case a failure for animals doesn’t appreciate how incredibly difficult and groundbreaking it was and is not seeing the big picture. It was only partly about 17 abused monkeys in filthy, cramped cages. The other part was about millions of animals used in scientific research every year, getting tortured behind closed doors and without oversight by anyone who cares about animals. Scientists were and still are considered above cruelty laws to a very great degree, and that is NOT right. For the record, here are some of the firsts of the Silver Spring Monkey Case:
The first and only laboratory animal case to reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
The first and only arrest of an animal experimenter for cruelty to animals.
The first and only criminal prosecution and conviction of an animal experimenter on charges of cruelty.
The first termination of a federal research grant because of cruelty.
The first and only confiscation of animals from a laboratory.
When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all…
Thank you, Paul Simon. Actually, the place where I learned the most crap about animals was in the supposedly excellent college that I attended. I took some animal behavior courses, and what we were taught was so absurd, I was really surprised. I had begged my parents for a dog from an early age, when I realized what wonderful, loving animals they were, and they finally caved in and got me one, so I had at least that much experience, as many American kids do. But in college they taught us about “anthropomorphism” and how it was wrong to attribute “human” emotions to animals. They wanted us to assume animals didn’t have emotions unless you could prove it somehow. They talked about Pavlov’s dogs a lot—how they salivated when somebody rang a dinner bell. That was supposed to teach us something–maybe that I would also salivate if I was hungry and somebody rang a dinner bell.
My animal behavior professor was doing an experiment of covering up birds’ eyes and having them try to fly blind—intellectually interesting to him but not kind to the birds. People in that era were always trying to prove that “only humans” did one thing or another. We were told that only humans used tools. Then Jane Goodall found that chimps use tools all the time. It was just that nobody had watched them carefully before. Since then people have seen a lot of other animals using tools. Just the other day there was an article about a type of bird using a stick to scratch her back.
In terms of emotions, the more intelligent thing to do would be to assume animals DO have emotions if they look like they’re having emotions. You know, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. Obviously there are some exceptions—for example, dolphins and elephants have mouths that make them look like they’re smiling, even when they’re suffering or even dead. You have to use your brain. But we’re animals, they’re animals, and to think that only humans, of all the animals in the world have emotions is ridiculous. Not only do animals have emotions, they have STRONG emotions. I want to mention “strong” because some people believe farm animals have SOME emotions but that somehow, through breeding and long captivity, that these emotions have been somehow muted, so people think these animals don’t really care when they’re abused. In reality, emotions have NOT been bred out of them, they do have STRONG emotions, and they care a great deal when they are abused. Some people refuse to accept that, and that leads to a lot of cruelty and bending over backwards to deny what our eyes and ears tell us when animals are clearly experiencing suffering or joy.
Let’s Play “Jeopardy!”
I’m looking forward to the outcome of the “Jeopardy!” GOAT competition. But the real joy I get out of it is the memory of how important it was to my family. Because without emotions, intelligence is nothing. For Alex Pacheco, goats were not something to be used as a joke but suffering animals in need of help. One time, he and a coworker parachuted onto the remote areas of the island of Molokai, Hawaii, and worked under primitive conditions for weeks in order to dismantle cruel leghold traps that were being used to kill pigs and goats. Because of these traps, the pigs and goats were dying slowly of strangulation, dehydration, and starvation. He used this information in a media campaign which got the Nature Conservancy to stop using those traps on Molokai, and this media campaign also raised public awareness about how cruel leghold traps are and that they should never be used. I’m glad Alex Pacheco realized from an early age that animals have strong emotions and that they desperately need and deserve protection. I’m glad he went on to devote his life to helping animals. His work has had global impact. If everyone had that kind of intelligence, the world would be a much kinder place.
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